Tourette syndrome: an excuse to swear and hit people

21 Dec

So I have Tourette syndrome. Which is fun. Like lots of fun pastimes it involves dancing, loud noises and surprising people in public.

All it is my muscles, usually my arms or shoulders, spontaneously moving followed by pins and needles running through my nervous system. Sometimes I make noises but you would too if your muscles moved themselves around. It doesn’t make me swear or say inappropriately sexual phrases. I can do that all on my own.

What makes my own pet neurological disorder special is that, more often than not my tics resemble dance moves. I’ve been known to shimmy, twist and clap my hands like a flamenco dancer. Lately I’ve been doing a series of jazzy, sultry clicks with my right hand. I’ve also kicked lovers and smacked my head violently on bus windows. It took a while for a hand shaped bruise on my arm to fade because I kept refreshing it.

I’ve been getting several tics a day since I was about nine. Some things that appear to trigger them are:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Being slightly chilly
  • Sickness
  • Being over caffeinated
  • Being under caffeinated
  • PMS
  • Needing to pee
  • A random weather event happening in a nearby city (or something like that)

So being in an overly air conditioned late night session of a tedious movie where I’ve drunk one of those giant cokes after I’ve had a fight with my mother while I have the flu is basically my idea of hell. If you manage to engage me in interesting conversation on a warm day when I’m feeling chipper you’ll probably never notice.

There’s nothing I can do to stop a tic from happening. I feel one coming as a kind of pressure building up in my limbs. Then the tic happens and there’s a feeling of relief. Over the years I’ve learnt to redirect the movement. For instance, if I have hot coffee in my left hand I’ll be able to force the tic down my right arm to avoid disaster. For all I know my jazzy clicks could be an alternative to me shouting “I prefer to Cherry Ripes to hairy scrotum” at my boss.

As neurological disorders go it really isn’t so bad. It’s actually quite surprising how little impact it’s had on my life. I manage to get quite a bit done between dance moves. Tourette syndrome is incredibly varied in its symptoms and severity, ranging from imperceptible to almost debilitating. This could explain why I only got a formal diagnosis* at 23, long after the point they’d told me I’d grow out of my strange little habit.

The only thing it’s really ever stopped me doing is driving. I’m told that it takes quite a bit of concentration so I expect I’d be fine, I just haven’t quite worked up the courage yet. I guess I learnt early on that I got to decide how much it would affect me. I opted for “very little” so I developed a sense of humour about it.

When I was 16, during a particularly dance-a-riffic stage, I was in history class. I hadn’t yet learnt how to redirect my tics so I kept making this little “OOOP!” noise and moving my hands around. An angry looking chick turned around and said “What, do you have Tourette’s or something?!”

“Yes,” I said, with a deadpan expression. The angry chick, who is now one of my best friends, looked mortified, folded herself in half and sunk into her chair. I don’t think she ever quite recovered. That was a turning point from which I decided that the problem wasn’t with me, it was with society’s lack of accommodation for spontaneous dance.

So in summary, if I swear at you or approach you with out of context sexual innuendo, chances are I mean it.

*Can I get some kind of certificate for that? I’m not asking for much, just like a merit award or something. I’d also like a badge.

There are a number of groups that support people with Tourette syndrome. Try the Tourette Syndrome Association of Australia.

The UK based campaign, Tourette’s Hero uses the humour approach quite well.

This post was republished on and ABC RampUp where readers have written many encouraging comments and have shared their Tourette’s experiences.


12 Responses to “Tourette syndrome: an excuse to swear and hit people”

  1. Kaarch Potato December 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Great post! Funny, insightful and honest. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Matt December 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Awesome post, very interesting and funny. I suspect Tourette’s is misunderstood by quite a lot of people (as are a lot of neurological disorders), but I like your attitude to dealing with it and finding the humour in it, there’s something quite nice and refreshing about that. It’s incredible though it took so long to be diagnosed with it, but I was the same with epilepsy – I was diagnosed at 17, after several years of having dizzy spells several times a day which turned out to be seizures. Likewise it stopped me from driving for a while, until I was in my twenties pretty much. I have to regularly fill in paperwork for the RTA to tell them that yes, I am still okay to drive (so tedious…)
    Anyway, as I was saying, great post!

    • fixitdearhenry December 22, 2011 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks, Matt, for your kind words and for sharing your story. I think a lot of people can find the bureaucracy involved in a health condition frustrating. Being passed from specialist to specialist, no one having the answers. Going to the RTA must feel just like another cog to go through.

      • Matt December 22, 2011 at 11:17 am #

        Exactly! It is frustrating. Getting EEG’s every year is kind of fun, cos I like to pretend I’m Frankenstein’s monster with all of the electrodes hooked up to my head. Mind, next time I get this done, I think my neurologist wants me to come off my meds…so I’m putting it off cos the thought scares me a little :p
        Hope you eventually start driving with it – it is a double edged sword the driving thing, in that it is quite scary, but once you can handle it, it’s also a huge confidence booster.

  3. fixitdearhenry December 22, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Not only will I have to get over my fear, I’ll have to learn my left from right!!

  4. Lindsay Westrup December 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I love this article your positivity is very contagious, beautifully written.

  5. fixitdearhenry March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    So I just booked a couple of long haul flights and requested the leg room seat because of my restless legs. The travel agent asked me if Tourette syndrome would prohibit me from being able to open the emergency exits. #intentionalfacepalm

  6. Charlotte May 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Its funny that your article popped up, because I literally googled my husband hit me and used tourettes as an excuse. From what I understand, a bad temper is not a symptom of tourettes, it is just ticks. As someone who has the condition do you ever have problems controlling your temper? Or is this just him making an excuse for being a jerk?

    By the way, I love your article. Way to be positive about life! And you are a great writer 🙂

    Also, I divorced him. I don’t stand for physical violence, and we have a child.

  7. fixitdearhenry May 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Hi Charlotte, thank you for your very personal and encouraging comment.

    I can really only talk about my experience of Tourette’s. I wouldn’t associate losing my temper with TS and that’s not something I’ve come across in the literature. I certainly wouldn’t condone using Tourette’s, legitimate or otherwise, as an excuse for verbal or physical abuse. By hitting people, I was referring to when my ticks accidentally get in the way of other people. Usually my boyfriends, and they stop noticing after a while.

    I’m glad to hear you’ve divorced this arsehole. I wish all the best for you and your child.

    • Charlotte May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

      Thanks so much for answering my question, I try to get as many opinions from people who have tourettes as possible because I want to know I did the right thing by leaving, I’m sure I did, no one wants to be in that kind of relationship, even if the temper is caused by a medical condition. It’s really not fair to my child, you know? Thanks for the inspiring story as well, I have several annoying medical conditions myself but try to make the best of it (example: I have horrible asthma so exercise is hard, and my friends joke I am allergic to long flights of stairs and heavy lifting 🙂 ). Take care.

  8. Tom Benedict December 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    This is golden! Thank you so much for writing this. I haven’t stopped smiling yet.

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